by Father Mark Goldasich
On your mark… get set… go!
How many times as a kid did you hear that? It seems like we were always racing, eager to show just who was “the best.” Some people never quite get over the “race mentality.” They appear constantly ready to prove who is the most famous, the wealthiest or the smartest.
With that in mind, mull over this little story, originally told by Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn.:
A town in India holds an annual bike race. What makes this one so unusual, though, is that, unlike the Tour de France, the object of this race is to go the shortest distance possible within a specified time.
Imagine the scene: The cyclists wait at the starting line, the gun sounds and every racer . . . stays put.
If a racer tips over, he is disqualified. If a bicyclist starts to wobble and puts a foot on the ground to steady himself, he is disqualified. As bikers start to lose their balance, they try to inch forward just enough to keep the bike upright.
When the designated time has elapsed and the gun sounds, the person who has gone the farthest is the loser, and the person closest to the starting line is declared the winner! (Story adapted from “Unexpected Rules for Life’s Race” in “Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion,” by Craig Brian Larson and Drew Zahn.)
I think that Jesus would be delighted at such a race. Remember this is the person who said in the Gospel a few weeks ago: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Jesus had a knack for turning the rules of this world on their head.
Pastor Anderson says to imagine yourself in that race in India. Pretend that you don’t know the rules. What would happen? Well, you’d probably hear the starting gun and zip off with a tremendous burst of speed, amazing and pleased that everyone else was still back at the starting line.
You’d pedal faster and faster, smiling at how fantastic you were doing. At the final gun, you’d raise your hands in triumph: No one was even close to catching you. Then, you’d learn what the rules were — to go the shortest, not the longest, distance — and all your effort would have been for a losing cause.
Over the past few weeks, Luke’s Gospel has clarified the “rules of the game” for following Jesus, and they sound very foreign to our American ears: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Aug. 4); “Sell your belongings and give alms. . . . For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Aug. 11); “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple” (Sept. 8); and “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Sept. 22).
You’ve heard the expression: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Jesus’ take is quite different, especially regarding our possessions.
Sadly, our possessions can lead us down many dangerous paths. We can, for example, put all of our trust in them and the supposed security they provide, instead of ultimately depending upon God. Possessions can take over our life, possessing us by stealing our time, our energy and our focus. But the most destructive of all is that we can begin to value things over people, like choosing to wax the car instead of spending time with family or friends.
The season of autumn can be a visual reminder
of one aspect of discipleship. As the trees drop their leaves, may we strive to “drop” our excess possessions into the lives of the needy — developing, as Father Ed Hays once wrote, “holey” hands.
We started out our lives with empty hands. At the end of our lives, may God find us as close to that starting line as possible.